What inspired you to write “RedKing”? How difficult was it to wrangle the different themes of mad contagion, cyborg bodies, not to mention a police procedural?
The story had two inspirations.
One inspiration was the idea of computer viruses as actual cognitive viruses, invading your skull. And, of course, we know now that there are biological viruses and bacteria that, for their own benefit, alter the behavior of their host organism. So what would get a brain program propagated? What kinds of effects on behavior might make it likely to be spread among host brains? The odd title also comes from biology. Some speculate that sex evolved as a way to slow parasitism. This is called the Red Queen strategy. So with that ringing in my mind, I named the parasite code RedKing.
Another inspiration was the idea of software as a drug. But of course, it would be more than a drug: It could simulate not just experiences, but different ways of being.
Given those themes, a police procedural seemed best to let the idea grow. The story felt easy to write, once the code monkey started talking.
The effects of RedKing are subtle and much more creepy as observed through our code monkey’s eyes. What do you think draws us to stories that have an unreliable narrator? Do you have a favorite unreliable voice?
I felt that it had to be first person. The software changes how the protagonist sees the world, and as a result to some degree changes who he is. So ideally the reader gets to experience that from the inside.
I usually write in the third person, because I like lots of moving parts and perspectives. But I think readers prefer the intimacy of the first person. And a bit of mystery, a surprising discovery, is much more interesting when it is the result of an unreliable narrator, since it reveals character.
Finally, I think that there is something in our zeitgeist that favors the unreliable narrator. We are questioning personal identity and the nature of the self more than we have in the past. An unreliable narrator can make these concerns explicit.
Philip K. Dick was a master of the unreliable narrator, in works like A Scanner Darkly, or (most weirdly) VALIS.
Throughout “RedKing,” we see citizens infected with extreme violence. When you were working on the hacker’s motivation for the virus, was there anything in particular you drew on?
Legion gives the program the ability to defend itself, and to evolve different forms of self-defense. We see in nature that violence is a common tactic of competition. It seems likely that RedKing might use violence to protect and propagate itself.
But there’s another layer to it, of course. Most games are violent, it seems to me. As games become more immersive, more realistic, the violence becomes more and more realistic. I know that we all agree nowadays that violent art does not cause violence. But, then again, are we really so sure? Isn’t there some kind of danger here?
The RedKing program turns the world into a game. If it’s a violent game, then the infected person will bring that violence out into the world.
Do you see the narrator’s choice of profession as being a rejection/response to the cred culture that Legion wants to put his mark on?
Hackers who move from cracking to security are seen as having moved outside hacker culture. After all, there are other ways one can move: Some hackers become white hats, against the black hats, instead of joining the establishment. But, even though he is inside the machine, I think the code monkey might still take pride in being recognized as the person who defeated RedKing. There are different communities, with their own measures of cred. He won’t want the kind of cred that Legion sought, but I bet over at Code Isolation, they have their own sense of who can bring it.
What’s next for you, Craig?
I’m in the revising stage of a near-future SF novel. The novel is called The End of Now and it’s about time and music and interstellar travel and love and revolution. As soon as the revisions of that novel are done, I will write a novel about the code monkey. He’s got an even bigger problem to solve.
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